Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

We need to talk about the Haqqanis

In a question and answer session last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about how the United States would balance its need to work with Pakistan while also putting it under pressure to end its alleged support for the Haqqani network.

Her answer, according to the State Department transcript, was to remind her audience that the United States had also played a role in creating the mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"Now, I also think it’s important to take a little historical review. If you go on YouTube, you can see Sirajuddin Haqqani with President Reagan at the White House, because during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States Government, through the CIA, funded jihadis, funded groups like the Haqqanis to cross the border or to, within Afghanistan, be part of the fight to drive the Soviets out and bring down the Soviet Union," she says.

I have to assume she means Jalaluddin Haqqani, the elderly father who has since passed on much of the leadership of the Haqqani network to his son, Siraj. Yet here is the thing. I cannot find any evidence that Haqqani ever visited the White House. I have asked around among Afghanistan and Pakistan experts. I have skimmed through my copy of Charlie Wilson's War.  I have asked on Twitter if anyone could show that Haqqani had ever visited the United States. 

In the U.S.-Pakistan fight, India an anxious spectator

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Pakistan and the United States are in the middle of such a public and bruising fight that Islamabad’s other pet hate, India, has receded into the background.  A Pakistani banker friend, only half in jest, said his country had bigger fish to fry than to worry about India, now that it had locked horns with the superpower.

But more seriously, India itself has kept a low profile, resisting the temptation to twist the knife deeper into its neighbour when it faces the risk of isolation. Much of what Pakistan stands accused of, including the main charge of  using violent extremism as an instrument of foreign policy, is an echo of what New Delhi has been blaming Pakistan for, for two decades now.  Even the language that America’s military officials led by Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and diplomats  have employed such as “proxy wars” , “cross border raids”   or terrorism central to describe Pakistan is a throwback to the 1990s and later when India and Pakistan were dueling over  Kashmir.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “end game” is in Pakistan

The United States has turned on Pakistan with such dizzying speed over the past few weeks that it is difficult to keep pace. Yet what is clear after Admiral Mike Mullen's extraordinarily blunt statement that the Haqqani militant network is a "veritable arm" of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is that it now has the Pakistan army very firmly in its sights.

Mullen accused the ISI, which is effectively a wing of the Pakistan army, of supporting the Haqqani network in a truck bomb attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan and an assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul which led to a 20-hour siege. "We also have credible intelligence that they (the Haqqani network) were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations," he said.

from Photographers' Blog:

Back in Afghanistan, ten years later

By Erik de Castro

Ten years ago I was part of the three-member Reuters multimedia team that went to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. We covered the pursuit for Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban followers, who were believed to be holed up in the caves of the Tora Bora mountains, by US military special forces fighting alongside the Afghan Mujaheedin. Nobody from the press saw Osama. Instead about a dozen Taliban captured from the caves were presented to the media in Tora Bora.

As we passed the Afghan border on the road to Jalalabad following a long journey from Islamabad, Pakistan, I remember the precautions our security adviser told us: If ever we are stopped by armed men along the way, stay calm and just hand over our U.S. dollars. Weeks earlier, two Reuters colleagues (a TV cameraman and a photographer) and two other European journalists traveling with a convoy of media vehicles were killed by bandits on the same road.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Kabul attack, pressure remains on Pakistan

That the situation is bad in Afghanistan is obvious. Quite how bad is open to debate following the 20-hour attack by insurgents on Kabul, though former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman put it rather succinctly on his Twitter feed @SORBONNE75. "If one considers totality of picture---anti-terror, anti-insurgency---- US far from prevailing in Afghanistan. US troops after 10 yrs in same position as Soviet troops after 8 yrs were in 1987---victory increasingly elusive."

Yet as has been the case for years, the United States has few good options in Afghanistan. Pulling out altogether would not only leave Afghanistan dealing with a bitter civil war but could further destabilise Pakistan.  Staying runs the risk of testing the patience not just of western public opinion but also of Afghans, who as the Afghanistan Analysts Network said, could come to see foreign forces as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  "The possible perception among Afghan residents that the presence of foreigners is a catalyst for attacks may lead to a growing conclusion that the problems related to their presence far outweigh the benefits," it said. In the meantime, talks with the Afghan Taliban in order to try to reach a political settlement  appear to be going nowhere and are unlikely to become any easier after the attack on Kabul.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s Afghan policy: is that depth strategic or senseless?

At a conference earlier this year, someone made an argument, convincingly I thought, against the use of the expression "the end-game in Afghanistan".  Afghanistan as a country and the people in it will not come to an end when western forces leave, and nor is their future a game.  I was reminded of that comment reading a report published at the end of last month called "Pakistan, the United States , and the End Game in Afghanistan; Perceptions of Pakistan's Foreign Policy Elite." 

The report, produced jointly by the Jinnah Institute and the United States Institute of Peace, summarises in one place what has until now been largely the subject of background briefings about what Pakistan wants in Afghanistan. The report's authors, who have also written a shorter summary of its findings, identify three main objectives which the "elite" considered necessary in Afghanistan:

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks and Mullah Omar’s Eid message

Since reading Mullah Omar's lengthy Eid message on his view of Afghanistan's future, I have been trying to work out, without success, what it means for prospects of talks with the Taliban. It is a piece of evidence without context, available to anyone to bolster whatever argument they care to submit.

Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid described the message from the Afghan Taliban leader as "the longest and by far the most forward-looking political message he has ever sent".

America in Afghanistan until 2024 ?

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The Daily Telegraph  reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 .  That’s a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 14 August 2011

This week Pakistan marked its day of independence from British rule with parades, parties, face painting and bombs.  Two pictures of faces covered in colour, one paint, the other blood, seems to sum up all there needs to be said about the national pride Pakistan feels while facing so many challenges. Visually the complementary colours of green and red (colours on opposite sides of the colour spectrum) make the pictures jump out of the page especially when put side by side. The angry eye staring out of the face of green in Mohsin Raza's picture engages the viewer full on while in Amir Hussain's picture the man seems oblivious of his wound as blood covers his face, again more opposites, this time not in colour but mood. India too is preparing to celebrate its independence and Dehli-based photographer Parivartan Sharma's picture of festival preparations came to mind after I put together the red-and-green combination picture from Pakistan.  

 

(top left) A man, with his face painted depicting the colours of the Pakistan national flag, attends a ceremony to mark the country's Independence Day at the Wagah border crossing with India on the outskirts of Lahore August 14, 2011. Pakistan gained independence from British rule in 1947. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 7 August 2011

After rioting in Xinjiang left 11 dead at the start of Ramadan the Chinese authorities stated that the insurgents who started the trouble had fled to Pakistan. Security forces quickly deployed in numbers to ensure that any further trouble was prevented or quickly quelled. Shanghai-based Carlos Barria travelled to Kashgar to shoot a story on the renovation of the old Kashgar centre, an example of China's modernising campaign in minority ethnic regions. A busy week for Aly Song, who is also Shanghai based, with taxi drivers on strike over rising fuel costs while Lang Lang had local fishermen preparing for typhoon Muifa to hit. In both pictures, the eye is cleverly drawn  to the distance to show in one image, a line of  striking taxi drivers, and in the other, rows of boats bracing for the imminent typhoon.

Ethnic Uighur men sit in front of a television screen at a square in Kashgar, Xinjiang province August 2, 2011. Chinese security forces blanketed central areas of Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, days after deadly attacks that China blamed on Islamic militants highlighted ethnic tensions in the Muslim Uighur area.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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